I was recently sitting outside a local hospital where I provide organizational development consulting for, when two nurses in uniform sat on an adjacent bench presumably taking a break from work. Their conversation was easily picked up; sharing complaints about their hectic day and feelings of stress and being overworked. This theme lasted for several minutes before switching to recently released movies and other popular culture topics.
Their exchange made me think that while I was very familiar with the issue of physician burnout as it was a focus of a project I lead a few years ago, I was unfamiliar with the specific issue of nurse burnout. I sought out a good friend and tennis partner who is a nurse and asked her about it and confirmed that it is a common and serious issue. Further insight was gained by reading a book my nurse friend shared with me entitled; Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses. Published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2008, the book had an entire chapter on Work Stress and Burnout Among Nurses: Role of the Work Environment and Working Conditions.
My understanding of the issue was greatly increased, including the costs of nurse burnout. The cost of nurse turnover can have a huge impact on a hospital’s profit margin. According to the 2016 National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report, the average cost of turnover a nurse ranges from $37,700 to $58,400. Hospitals can lose $5.2 million to $8.1 million annually. How can you tell if burnout is approaching, or just a bad work week? Here are some signs:
7 Warning Signs of Nurse Burnout
Burnout doesn’t look exactly the same in every nurse who experiences it, but the signs may include:
- Finding more reasons to call in sick to work, arrive late or leave early
- Profound negativity
- Overwhelming irritability
- “Checking out” or withdrawing, especially if the person was previously extroverted
- Extreme intolerance to change
- Feeling Underappreciated
What the Individual Nurse Can Do
- Learn to recognize the symptoms that something is wrong, the list above, both in their colleagues and themselves.
- Embrace self-care strategies that help maintain a healthier attitude or work–life balance. It goes without saying but we must include diet, exercise and taking mandatory breaks instead of the bad habit of skipping meals and lack of sleep.
- Learning techniques for meditation or mindfulness. Both offer many health benefits including increased concentration, decreased stress levels and a general sense of well being.
What Nurse Leaders Can Do
- Nurse Leaders can increase their visibility, actively listen to the nurses’ department issues and take action to co-develop practical solutions. Open dialogue not only validates concerns but shifts the focus to empowerment towards positive outcomes and added relieve when nurses feel they are being heard.
- Leaders can advocate for tools and knowledge sharing to improve processes and productivity. Encourage team members to gain knowledge and competence to share responsibilities to offer timely support for each other (with task involving admissions or discharge documentation and patient education). This allows flexibility for nurses to care for other patients or their own self-care needs.
What can the organization do to reduce burnout? This will be the subject of another post that describes a systematic approach to sustain improvements overtime and reinforce a culture of caring and commitment to talent needs. Recognizing the potential costs of fatigue and burnout among the nursing workforce and taking steps to address them are key. Championing interventions for nurses to help them develop resilience and problem solving to address some of the workplace factors that could be causing stress, including communication breakdowns are great places to start.
If you’re not a nurse and work in another healthcare role, or work in another industry and want further information, check out Burnout Prevention.
When you love the work you do, yet more often feel emotional exhausted, isolated and cynical, worry about the unknown future, mindfulness teaches the importance of focus on the present, what is happening now. “Things sometimes go our way and sometimes they don’t. All we can do is apply ourselves to our profession, giving our very best effort but emotionally letting go of the outcome. Why? Because if we obsess about an outcome, we cannot possibly honor the present moment.”
― Christopher Dines, Mindfulness Burnout Prevention: An 8-Week Course for Professionals